Here is a video of one of the enoute Dignified Transfers of the remains of Special Forces Warrant Officer Shawn Thomas of 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. WO1 Thomas fell not in combat with an armed enemy, but in a motor vehicle accident in Niger, Africa, during a routine joint combined training/exercise deployment. That doesn’t make him any less dead, nor does it alter the grief of his wife, his friends and teammates, and, even, the crew and passengers of the plane that transported his remains.
We in the SF community are grateful to the aircrew, airline, and especially the passengers who showed such great respect, despite being inconvenienced.
Freedom isn’t free. In our eight or nine years of peacetime active duty, our Special Forces group lost men to electrocution, parachute mishaps, a Fulton STAR mishap, a skiing mishap, and even to entanglement in brush while crossing a stream swollen with snowmelt runoff. And, yes, motor vehicle accidents. After going into the Reserves and Guard, we we less connected to the other battalions and companies in our Group, but we’d get word of fatal and serious accidents from time to time.
You can’t train for combat without some risky activities. And you can’t conduct risky activity indefinitely without rolling snake eyes some time.
In cases like this, where fallen service members are transported on commercial aircraft, it’s customary for the cockpit crew to hold the doors on the aircraft (with the exception of allowing an escort to debark) to allow the casket to be transferred with suitable dignity. As you can see in the video, the pallbearers — often from the decedent’s unit, and sometimes volunteers — and the mortuary personnel have a procedure for this and execute it with the maximum dignity to the memory of the fallen man, and the minimum inconvenience to other travelers.
Very occasionally, someone gets mouthy or disrespectful on the plane. You can’t eliminate a certain percentage of humanity being jerks. But it doesn’t happen much, because, after all, they’re already segregated — most of Hollywood and Congress flies by private jet.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.